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When we moved on to Cocker Hill, Stalybridge many years ago people kept telling us “there used to be a church there”  or “The old church fell into the river” etc.  I did a little research and found that they were correct, but there had not been just one church though, there had been three, all built in a similar style. The first was built in 1776. It was the first recorded church in Stalybridge and it did fall down shortly after it was built. The  next church was demolished around a hundred years later because of structural problems and the last church was demolished in the 1960’s as it was no longer used.

The first Church of St. George, Cocker Hill

I have detailed the history of the three churches below; you might need to get a cup tea though I think this is going to be  fairly long post.  The history of the churchyard is interesting too, especially the tales of the body snatchers.

Prior to the building of the Cocker Hill Chapel the people had to walk to either Ashton or Mottram to get to church, not too bad in Summer but it must have been a fairly muddy journey in winter. The church officials in Ashton realised that this was a problem and set about looking for a possible site for a church in Stalybridge.

The site of the church was first sold  on 5 May 1698 for £1001.2s.0d. The site measured three acres of “Cheshire large measure” and was described in the deed as “a chance close, a parcel of land”. Nothing was made of the land at that time.

On 30th June 1774 Lord Stamford agreed with the church Commissioners to allow the land to be used to be used for a church. Money for the building was raised by public subscription and by various grants and gifts.

The church was consecrated in July 1776 as “Chapel of St. George in Staly Bridge within Ridgehill and Lanes in the parish of Ashtonunderlyne”  (Note how Stalybridge was then two words and Ashton Under Lyne was then one.)

The Rev James Wardleworth was appointed as the first vicar in April 1777. The first Baptisms was recorded were held  28 July 1776 and the first burial in the graveyard took place on 16 January 1777.

The next information I can find for the church is a return made by the church to the articles of enquiry of 1778 sent out by the Bishop of Chester. One question asked about the church services. James Wardleworth answered it as follows:- ” My Chapel had ye Misfortune of Tumbling down on Friday 15th May, 1778 and it is uncertain when it will be rebuilt………”

It appears that the church was rebuilt quickly. I can find no record of  the date though. The new church looked very similar to the previous one.

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The second St Georges Church on Cocker Hil

Rev James Wardleworth resigned 4 October 1790 and was succeeded Rev John Robinson on 1 April 1791.

Rev Robinson resigned 9 October 1795 and was succeeded by Rev John Kenworthy 25 September 1796.

John Kenworthy was the vicar for 11 years until he died 13th August 1806.He was just 34 when he died. He was buried in the Cocker Hill churchyard with his wife and Children. The burial records for his family made sad reading. He had a son william who died March 1815 aged 8, a daughter Ellen who died in December 1815 aged 15. His wife Elizabeth died in March 1818 and his other daughter Sarah died in aged just 19 in February 1819.

Rev John Cape Atty was licenced on 11th April 1807.  Cape Atty lived on Cocker Hill, opposite the church. In the returns submitted to the Bishop he describes his house as a substantial stone building, with stable and cow-house on the premises. Also a garden” Cape Atty remained vicar until he died in 1822. His memorial stone remains in the Cocker Hill churchyard.

Rev Isaac Newton France was appointed in 1822. France was previously a curate in Ashton. He was reported as creating sects and divisions throughout the church. Things did not seem to go any better for him in Stalybridge and it was reported that “The Chapel at Cocker Hill under his incumbency was deserted to a great extent”. In the year prior to Newton France’s appointment there were reported to be 450 people in regular attendance.

In 1835 Newton France asked the church’s patron, the Earl of Stamford, to close the existing Chapel, due to its bad repair, and build a new one on a different site. I think he though a bigger newer church would get him a bigger congregation. The Earl agreed and purchased the land on the Hague Stalybridge. The foundation stone was laid for the new church 1st September 1838. The church was completed and consecrated 24 June 1840. The new church was called the church of St George, same name as the Cocker  Hill Chapel as it was the intention that it the new church replaced the old one; however this was not the case.

The new church, known locally as “New” St Georges,  had a capacity of 1,500 people, but with Newton France in charge the congregation was small and it never reached anything near its intended target. Parish records show that the congregation fell as low as six or seven on a regular basis.

Back at the Cocker Hill chapel, known locally as “Old” St Georges, the people were opposed to the idea of closing the church. They petitioned the Bishop to keep the church open and offered to pay for a new vicar to be found. The Bishop gave them permission to make the church safe and good. They did this and even bought a new organ. On the 29th September 1843 Old St Georges re opened with  new vicar Rev William Hall.  The old Church went from strength to strength and the congregation increased back to the 450 it had been in Cape Attys time.

Then in November 1844 Newton France announced that he intended to leave New St Georges and take up possession of Old St Georges on 1 January 1846.

I think that this decision was mainly due to pew rents and endowments. Basically Old St Georges was making more money than New St Georges and Newton France wanted a piece of it. Because of the difficulties with Newton France Hall resigned from Old St Georges in July 1846 and also resigned as a vicar which seems a shame as it sounds like he was a pretty good one.

Things then went from bad to worse. The newspaper reports at the time implied that Newton France was only returning to old St Georges  for financial reasons. He applied to the Church wardens for the keys to the church in August 1846 but his request “was resolutely refused no matter what the consequences”. Newton France then threatened legal proceedings and was told by the Church Wardens that should he insist on returning to the chapel, the congregation would leave and take their organ with them! The Church remained closed. The local MP Mr Tollmache became involved and put the matter before Parliament for debate.There followed a turbulent year with the Churchwarden’s supporters and Newton France’s supporters regularly breaking into the church, changing the locks and taking control of the church.

Newspaper reports at the time suggested that at certain periods on a Sunday in 1847 there were upwards of 2000  people collected in and around the chapel to see what was going on. The week after there were reported to be 3000-4000 people watching to see what would happen next.

By 1849 the church was reported to be very dilapidated, most of the lower windows were broken and the doorway was smashed beyond repair. There did not seem to be any resolution in sight. In May 1850 Isaac Newton France died. A coroners inquest gave a verdict of “death by natural causes”.

Following the death of Newton France the Bishop of Manchester appointed a new vicar at old St Georges, Rev John Leeson. Leeson had taken over new St Georges after Newton France and had grown and gained the respect of the congregation there. The Bishop hoped that he would help heal the problems in old St Georges.

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The Second Old St Georges with surrounding buildings. This photo was taken some time after 1848 when Wakefield Road Baptist Church, the Church on the top left of the picture, was built.

Leeson continued to have many problems with the churchwardens at old St Georges so perhaps all the trouble at old St Georges wasn’t Newton France’s fault. Leeson appeared to deal with them better though and won in the end.  John Leeson continued at old St Georges until his death in August 1867. His memorial in the Cocker Hill churchyard is still visible and says; “This Monument was erected by many friends and is sacred to the memory of John Edmund Leeson who for 16 years was incumbent of this church……”.

Rev John B Jelly Dudley was appointed vicar in 1867 and continued for 34 years until his death in 1904. He was described as a “flamboyant figure with a great sense of humour”

In February 1877  it was reported that an “alarming landslip occurred at old St Georges churchyard” part of the churchyard had collapsed down the hill and exposed  number of coffins. News of the landslip spread rapidly and hundreds of people lined the Stamford Street Bridge to try to see what had happened.

In 1880 and 1881 church records show that “cracks had begun to appear in the south west corner of the building” The cracks got bigger and on 10th July 1882 the church was officially closed for safety reasons.

In 1886 a contract was drawn up to construct a new church on the same site. The new church was octagonal as the previous ones but the roof and windows were different.

The third “old” St. Georges Church, Cocker Hill

The church was re opened in 1888 and was described by the local paper as “an improvement on the old”

In 1904 old St Georges gained a new vicar; Rev Herbert Hampson. He was well liked and introduced both a dramatic society and an athletic society to the church. He continued as  vicar until he died in September 1924. Hampson was succeeded by Rev Frank Augustine Whitehead who was vicar from 1924 to 1937. Whitehead was described as “a great encouragement” and was a supporter of the dramatic society and was the only vicar known to perform in the dramatic productions.

The next vicar was Rev Reginald Hugh Cadman who stayed 7 years and appeared to have a fairly uneventful time at the church.

Cadman was succeeded in 1946 by Rev Charles James Saunders. Tragically Saunders committed suicide two years after taking over the church. Saunders had received the Military Cross for service during the First World War and it was thought that he had suffered from Shell shock. His time at the church was a strange one; not long after he arrived many of the parishioners of the church began to receive defamatory and insulting letters. Though none of the accusations in the letters were true they caused upset in the congregation and the police were called. The police noted that all the letters that had been typed were typed on the vicar’s typewriter and the letter that had been handwritten was in the vicar’s handwriting.

The next vicar was Rev William George McGowan was appointed in 1949. He was a “much loved and admired” vicar but decided to move on after just four years. At that point talk began again of closing old St Georges.

Rev John Penrose was appointed in 1954 and he stayed just three years. The building had fallen into disrepair again and cracks had begun to appear in the North wall. Architects’ reports showed that there were serious problems with the building and that is perhaps one of the reasons why John Penrose left the church.

In 1958 Rev William Radcliffe was appointed vicar and he too stayed just three years.

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Third Old St Georges Church in the late 1950s/1960s. Note the cross on the wall which was illuminated at night.

Radcliffe was succeeded in 1962 by the last vicar of old St Georges Rev Micheal Hodge. Hodge remained vicar for five years until the church closure in 1967.  Records show over 150 attended the final service in September 1967 and 80 attended the farewell dinner.

A great deal of effort was extended to try to preserve the building. In 1967 the Stalybridge Civic Society were interested in turning the building into a theatre. The Bishop agreed and said the building would be given as a gift to the town on condition that it would be maintained in a dignified manner. Unfortunately nothing came of this and the building was demolished.

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Prior to demolition the majority stained glass windows were moved into storage; unfortunately they were later destroyed b a fire. The “Ruth and Naomi” window was moved to Mottram Parish Church. A number of the pews went to Holy Trinity, Bardsley, the Church Bell went to the Church of St Stephen, Astley and the font went to new St Georges in Stalybridge. The wooded reredos  were sold to the Ealing FilmStudios along with one or two pews. The reredos was used on the set of the film “Cromwell” 

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The Cocker Hill churchyard remains today and you can still see the outline of old St Georges and the memorials to Rev Leeson and Rev Cape Atty.

New St Georges continues to be a living church. Website  http://www.stg.org.uk/

Sources

Two into On will Go by Paul Denby ISBN 0 9515993 0 5

Looking back at Stalybridge ISBN  0904506150

Burial Records Old St Georges

If you want to know more I can definitely recommend the book “Two into one will go” by Paul Denby ISBN 0 9515993 0 5. The book has the full history of both churches together with a full chapter on the battle between Isaac Newton France and the ChurchWardens.   There is also an account of the battle between Isaac Newton France and the Churchwardens in the book “Looking back at Stalybridge” Edited by Alice Lock ISBN  0 9515993 0 5.

Well,  to be more precise my husband bought me a picture. I turn 40 later this month and am finding it fairly easy to suggest just one more present……….thanks Al. I love you.        

Normally I wouldn’t add personal stuff to this Cocker Hill blog; but in this case I have a good excuse as the picture is a view from the Cocker Hill Churchyard, looking North East, towards St Paul’s Church, Stalybridge. The building in the foreground was Stokes’ Mill. It is now apartments. 

The picture is what I consider to be my view, the one I look at with my coffee after the school run in the morning. Most other people look up a the hills or down onto the town centre, but I look down and across the river………So when I saw the painting I had to have it.       

       

A Light Snow - Sheila Vaughan

 

 If you want to see more of Sheila’s Stalybridge paintings you can see photos of them on her blog.

John Bradbury

John Bradbury was a famous botanist; he didn’t live on Cocker Hill but was educated there by John Taylor, also a botonist, at the Cocker Hill Academy.    

John Bradbury

 

John Bradury was born in 1768 and began his career in the cotton mills. In 1809 he was sent to America to explore and to survey the potential of the colonies to supply cotton. Returning to England in 1812, Bradbury spent five years writing Travels in the Interior of America in the years 1809, 1810 and 1811 which gave apparently thrilling accounts of his adventures and life amongst the Indians.  I found an online copy of Travels in the Interior of America on google docs.  Not read it yet though!  

Fed up with England he went back to America again. He was warmly welcomed back and he got a job as curator and superintendent of the botanical gardens of St Louis giving his family good prospects in a new home. In St Louis, Bradbury was often visited by Indian Chiefs whom he had met in the wild. Maybe this prompted his desire to revisit their haunts and in 1825 he undertook an expedition which proved to be his last. Whether he died through natural causes or by accident is unknown.    

His grave is in Amercia.  

John Bradbury's Gravestone

 

John Bradbury has a Blue Plaque to commemorate his life at the entrance to Stalybridge Country Park. 

Further information can be found on Tameside MBC’s website –http://www.tameside.gov.uk/blueplaque/johnbradbury

Mary Kershaw

I found this reference about Mary Williamson (nee Kershaw) in information rearding the Lychgate at St Pauls Chuch on Huddersfield Road in Stalybridge. Mary grew up on Cocker Hill and the Lychgate into St Pauls was a gift from Mary and her husband Tomas to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversiary. The Lychgate was constructed in 1904. This story provides a nice contrast to my earlier post about Joel and Margaret Broadbent also of Cocker Hill.

Thomas Williamson came to Stalybridge from Rochdale in 1850 when he was about 22 and set up as a watchmaker and jeweller in the town where he met Mary Kershaw. She was the daughter of a tallow chandler in Cocker Hill, and they were soon married. Mary had a lifelong connection with St Paul’s – it was said that she was present as a child at the laying of the foundation stone of the church as well as at similar ceremonies at New St George’s and St John’s, Dukinfield.

For the rest of their lives she and her husband were highly involved with St Paul’s where Thomas was twice a church warden and a substantial benefactor, and Mary was “a devoted and loving friend” of the church and its people.

Thomas moved from the jewellery trade to establish a brass founding firm, initially near the present Post Office and then on Cocker Hill and finally in Tame Valley at the Atlas Works which became successful and flourished. He was also a director of Albion Mills Co. Ltd. when it was incorporated in 1883.

Thomas and Mary lived at Brookfield Villa in the lower part of Mottram Road. They planted and made themselves responsible for the upkeep of the roadside trees in Mottram Road in addition to many other good works for the town which Thomas had adopted. He was a councilor in 1866-9 and again in 1879-85 and was a Justice of the Peace from 1880 onwards. He retired at 62 and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropic, public and religious work quietly and unostetatiously. His chief religious interest was St Paul’s where he was “devotedly engrossed, and with money, advice and labour did all he could to forward the good work of the Church”.

It seems that Thomas and Mary loved and were devoted to God, Stalybridge, St Paul’s and each other, but remained childless. When Mary died on Christmas Day 1909, aged 79, Thomas declared that he would die at Christmas to – he passed away two years later on December 13 aged 81.

There is no doubt that they, more than many of their contemporaries, made their mark on Stalybridge

This story appeared in the Ashton Reporter on 22 August 1903 under the headline

SHOCKING DOMESTIC TRAGEDY AT STALYBRIDGE

A Wife Charged With Murdering Her Husband.

Stalybridge was on Tuesday night thrown into a scene of the wildest excitement upon a rumour being circulated that a woman had made a murderous attack upon her husband with a knife, and that there was little hope of his recovery. The report only too true, for within about twelve hours of the perpetration of the deed the unfortunate husband had succumbed to haemorrhage, following upon loss of blood caused by a terrible wound in the neck.

The deceased was Joel BROADBENT, a forgeman employed at Messrs Summers’ Globe Ironworks, and he resided with his wife, Margaret BROADBENT, and two children, at a cottage, No 3 Cocker Hill, a short distance from the Town Hall. At nine o’clock — it appears from the statement of Mrs BROADBENT’s mother (Mrs Margaret DOCKNEY, who resided with the parties) — deceased arrived home and he and his wife exchanged a few heated words.

At that time there were two knives on the table, and fearing a disturbance Mrs DOCKNEY cleared the table of the pots. Whilst doing this it is alleged that her daughter picked up one of the knives — an ordinary weapon used for peeling potatoes — and stabbed her husband in the neck. What subsequently transpired is best gleaned from the account furnished by Constable Brierley GRIMSHAW.

This officer was on duty in the vicinity of the Town Hall when he saw BROADBENT knocking vigorously at Dr ROBERTS-DUDLEY’s surgery door. GRIMSHAW proceeded to ascertain the cause, and at once discovered that the man was bleeding profusely from an awful wound in the neck. The doctor not being at the house, the constable hurriedly conveyed the unfortunate man to Dr CLEMENTS’ surgery in Portland Place, and upon arriving there, BROADBENT utterly collapsed from loss of blood

By this time information of the tragic events had reached the Town Hall, and the poor man was conveyed in an unconscious state to the District Infirmary in the horse ambulance. Later on he recovered consciousness, but succumbed the following morning as stated.

THE WIFE IN CUSTODY
From what the deceased man said, Constable GRIMSHAW afterwards went to a house in Avon-street, and there arrested Mrs BROADBENT. He took her to the police station, and she was locked up. After midnight the man’s dying depositions were taken at the Infirmary by Mr Jno WHITEHEAD (magistrates’ clerk) who was accompanied by Dr HOWE, JP, and Captain BATES (Chief Constable), and we understand that a very clear statement incriminating the prisoner was made.

PRISONER BEFORE THE MAGISTRATES
Mrs BROADBENT was brought before the justices on Wednesday morning, at 10.30, her husband having died less than half an hour before the woman was transferred from the cell to the dock. The court was crowded, and as the prisoner, along with others for trial, was lead into the dock breathless silence prevailed, broken only by an occasional whimper on the part of Mrs BROADBENT.

One or two minor cases were disposed of, after which the Magistrates’ Clerk called upon the woman to stand up. She complied instantly. She stood against the dock rail, wearing a blue shawl over her head and shoulders, and only displayed a portion of her countenance as the Chief Constable asked the magistrates to hear formal evidence of arrest, and then remand prisoner for a week. In the meantime, added Captain BATES, the inquest would be held, and the woman would have to attend it.

Constable GRIMSHAW then came forward and said: Your worships, I arrested prisoner in a house in Avon-street at five minutes to nine o’clock last night. Just previously, I met deceased, bleeding profusely. I asked him who had caused the wound and he replied, “My wife, with a knife.” Upon charging her, she replied, “Yes; and if I had got a weapon I would serve you the way I served him. I don’t care what they do; I’m not afraid to die!” She was then locked up.

I have Ian Rhodes to thank for finding this story and highlighting it on his Yesterdays website. I find old newspaper stories fascinating. They really bring the past alive to me. Not sure if I’d have liked Cocker Hill then though; it sounds a little rougher than  it is now.

 The Churchyard on Cocker Hill has seen some changes in the almost 250 years it has been looking down on Stalybridge. Three Churches have come and gone on the site and there have been a number of fairly serious landslips.     

Looking at the graves and reading the inscriptions is interesting too. Some are just so sad;  for example in the one shown below for John and Peggy Kershaw you can see in the high infant mortality in the area only too easily. Their first child, Matty died in April 1800 aged 2 years, Mary died in May 1803 aged 4 weeks, Daniel died in june 1804 aged 9 weeks, Jno Hiram died in August 1807 aged 4 weeks, Nathaniel died in January 1811 aged 3 weeks, Margaret died in January 1812 aged 48 weeks and James died in February 1813 aged 7 weeks. John Kershaw died himself in 1821 aged 48 and Peggy died in 1841 aged 68. John was the Sexton at the Cocker Hill Chapel. There are many other memorials with similarly sad stories to tell.         

John and Peggy Kershaw and their Children

 

 Then there are other Gravestones that the “tourists” like to come and see in their groups on summer evenings like the one for Neddy Hall, owner of the first steam-powered Cotton Mills in the area. Neddy’s Mill was known as “Sootpoke Mill”         

There is a full list of all the gravestones and their inscriptions on the New St Georges Church Website.       

The Church and Churchyard were the first in Stalybridge. Built in 1776         

The land that the Church and Churchyard were built upon was originally owned by the Earl of Stamford. It was first conveyed in 1698 and was described in the deed as “a chance close, a parcel of land”  It is recorded that nothing was made of the land at the time. As the population of Stalybridge grew the need for a Church in Stalybridge  increased . The first Church was built on the site in 1776 and was consecrated as the “Chapel of St George in Staley Bridge within Ridgehill and the Lanes in the Parish of Ashton Under Lyne”.          

The first recorded Burial in the Churchyard was 16 January 1777.         

In a “return”  to the Bishop in 1821  the vicar the graveyard as described as being small-quite full and was kept in good order by allowing sheep to graze upon it.  Tameside council now keep the graveyard in good order with regular mowing, but it is not unknown for sheep to graze on it even now.  In the early hours of the morning a few years ago a neighbour of mine saw a small flock of sheep quietly grazing there……….we initially thought she was seeing things but it was a true a local sheep farmer had brought the sheep to graze on churchyard when his own grass was worn out.         

In the book Bygone Stalybridge there is an account of the funeral of  Joseph Hall of  Stalybridge. It describes  Joseph Hall as being connected with the Staly Hunt and describes his burial in the Cocker Hill church yard “attended by upwards of a hundred devout followers of the chase, many of them dressed in their well-worn livery, and attended by their faithful hounds”.  Apparently the sight provided material for a Lancashire sketch entitled “The Huntsman’s Funeral” by Ben Brierey.   

In February 1877 there was the first of two major landslips from the churchyard. Described as an “Alarming incident”. A section of the graveyard had collapsed onto the road below. An investigation by the police and the vicar showed that five or six coffins had fallen with the soil. The particular corner of the graveyard that fell was mainly used for the interment of still born children and it was these coffins that had fallen. Also when the work men began to sort through the debris it became clear that there appeared to have also been a number of  unofficial burials of still-born babies in addition to those in the Church records. Infant mortality was high in those days and many people could not afford to have their children buried. News of the landslip spread rapidly and by the early hours hundreds of people were viewing the scene and were reported to be “lining the bridge and adjoining places eager to get a view of all that had gone on.” The photo below shows the church and churchyard and the bridge where the crowds stood to see what was going on.         

Old St Georges Church and Churchyard.

 

 In 1968 the Church was demolished and in 1972 the churchyard was remodeled and landscaped  with new trees planted. This apparently made it easy to cut the grass and keep it tidy. I understand that it was at this time that the gravestones were moved into the positions they are now in forming steps down into Stalybridge.        

Cocker Hill Churchyard May 2010; The Gravestone Steps

 

A number of the past vicar’s from old St Georges had memorials in the Churchyard. The memorials for Rev Cape Atty and Rev Leeson can still be seen in the churchyard today. The memorials for Rev Kenworthy and Rev Jelly-Dudley were removed when the churchyard was remodeled.   

 1982 there was another landslip, not serious this time, just a small proportion of the retaining wall, and then in January 1983 there was another, more major landslip. This exposed he end of a large coffin and took a large section of the wall and a lot of earth into the River below.  I’d love to have seen the local paper that week!       

At that time it was also discovered that a family vault had been disturbed some years before. There were signs that the Stalybridge Body Snatchers had been at work as the coffin lids were off, some coffins were on their ends and all were empty.  However all that was in the past and the churchyard can now finally Rest in Peace and be enjoyed by all those who walk through it.    

Cocker Hill Churchyard; At Peace; May 2010

Calendar changes 1752

In 46 BC Julius Ceaser fixed the length of a year at 365 days, and 366 days every fourth year. He fixed the months at 30 & 31 days alternatively, with the exception of February (then the last month of the year) having 29 days in ordinary years and 30 in leap years. To mark this July was named after its originator.

The Julian calendar made a slight error in the length of a year (11 minutes 14 seconds). By the sixteenth century the cumulative error was about 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII rectified this in 1582 by decreeing that the 5th October become the 15th October and to stop it happening again it was ordained that the centurial years (i.e. 1600, 1700 etc) should not be leap years unless divisible by 400.

England did not accept this Gregorian calendar until 1752, thereby causing a lot of confusion between English and continental dates.

An Act of Parliament in 1750 made 2nd September 1752 into 14th September 1752 causing the residents of Cocker Hill (and the rest of England) to time travel 12 days into the future The Act also changed the start date of the new year to January.

Before 1752 the new-year began on 25th March. Ie 24th March 1700 was followed by 25th March 1701 etc. and 31st December 1700 was followed by 1st January 1700. Confusing? I thought so too, as when looking at old dates I automatically assume that January of a particular year came before December of the same year.